This week, as you may know, is national Carers Week.
I’ve been working in the voluntary sector for a long time now and Carers Week comes round like clockwork amongst the other special awareness raising weeks we see. But this year Carers Week for me is different because for the first time I identify myself as a carer. It’s especially significant for me because caring is currently my main role and everything else is taking a back seat.
The sudden dislocation from normality, from what was once my real life, has been quite a difficult thing to come to terms with. Whilst none of us like to think of ourselves as labelers we all do it, especially to ourselves. You know the kind of labels I mean: wife, mother, daughter, sister, hard worker, dog-lover, hen-keeper, keep-fit lover, wildlife enthusiast, keen gardener, etc, etc… The difference now is that because everything apart for my new caring role is taking a back seat many of the previous labels I gave myself are left behind with a tinge of regret and a hope that they’ll be picked back up at some time in the future.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a carer first and foremost because I have such love for my son that I could never think of doing anything other than looking after him at a time when he needs me most. I’m sure the majority of carers are the same. They don’t care out of a sense of duty but out of love.
The issue is that caring comes with a whole range of problems for the person doing the caring. The first thing to be affected is work. Understanding employers, like mine, are worth their weight in gold. To know that you have the support you need whilst you try to get onto an even keel is great. I’ve been very fortunate in the support I’ve had and continue to have but I know that many other carers are not so lucky. So suddenly, the main thing you do during your working week takes a hit. You miss out on the things you love most about what you do, you miss the people you work and mix with, even the regimentation of the working week is gone.
Yesterday I should have been in London attending the Cancer, Older People and Advocacy programme management board meeting. Instead I was writing this at a desk in my son’s hospital room in Glasgow. I missed out on an opportunity to meet up with good friends, on feeling productive in a constructive way, on contributing to what’s going on and in supporting delivery partners in any way I could. My working week has been halved so I can try to deal with life and work but my image of myself as a dynamic and supportive partner in the job I do is taking a hit.
Then there are the things I love to do but now miss; to walk my dog – she’s currently temporarily re-homed with my dad; to let the hens out in the morning and put them in at night – they’re at home and I’m not; the keep-fit is a distant memory as I’m rarely at home when it’s on; the wildlife isn’t quite the same out of a window in the west end of Glasgow as it is in the Highlands where I live; my garden isn’t getting the love and attention I usually give it so there’ll be fewer colourful flowers to sooth the soul in the summer ahead. Everything is taking a hit.
All of that means I’m not getting the exercise I’m used to, I’m not eating as well as normally and I’m feeling less good about myself as a result. With no prospect of life returning to any sense of normality in the foreseeable future I can see the need to find ways around that and to ensure I take better care of myself.
The biggest hit by far though at present is the distance between where my son is being treated and home. The care he’s receiving is exemplary, the staff are wonderful and facilities second to none but it’s not home. My husband is at home while we’re here, it’s not ideal.
So now I’ve told you how it is for me as a carer. My life is currently quite different from how it used to be. My main focus is and will remain my son and getting him well again. That’s what it’s all about for carers – the wellbeing of the person they care for.
This Carers Week unlike the last, I have a definite image of what it is to be a carer. I see a swan, reasonably serene on top of the water but paddling frantically underneath. So if you’re in a position to do something, no matter how small, to support someone with caring responsibilities this week, next week or any week, then please do it because little things make a world of difference.
Our Cancer, Older People and Advocacy work is all about supporting older people affected by cancer and many of them are carers like me. Advocacy can make a really positive difference to the lives of those it supports. If you live in one of our service delivery areas and you’d like to make a difference then please do get in touch. You’ll find contact details on the About Us page of our blog.
Marie McWilliams, OPAAL National Development Officer